As we near the close of this section of the series dealing with the sense of belonging in Black America – I felt it was essential to discuss two vital portions of belonging: Openness & Sensitivity. Today I’ll try to explain why the two play such a key role in the experiences many Black People have and will continue to have each day.
And this isn’t just about Black Openness & Sensitivity in a vacuum. I will also try to shine a little light on White Openness & Sensitivity as well and the impact that has (you’ll see in the context of how I use it in this post). Let’s get to it.
Stories Every Younger Black Person Has Heard
I didn’t enter the workforce until the late 2000s. I was welcomed in as the shiny new Black kid and treated very well (I have no complaints about that) The first thing I remember hearing were horror stories – specifically related to my hair (more on that later).
Older Black Coworkers (and my parents) would pull me to the side and let me know that there was no way that they would’ve been able to walk around as comfortably as I did during that time. And by “comfortable”, they meant “comfortable in my Blackness” in the workplace.
Every young Black worker has heard something along the lines of how Black People couldn’t safely be themselves at work for (a very real) fear of losing their gainful employment. And this isn’t anything born from paranoia, this is drawn from a history of seeing that there are very different views on race and what is “proper” in America.
Different Views About Race
I want to share some things that I thought were a little fascinating from a PEW Research Center study on how Americans viewed race in 2019 (qualifying this with the fact that this was all BEFORE the Summer of 2020 – which I think would’ve made these numbers even worse). This explains A LOT in terms of reactions to racial issues, and it will bring me to my first point about openness & sensitivity (as they relate to belonging).
The most interesting thing to me is the clear difference between One race being honest about how they feel about how they’ve been treated in this survey (Black People), and the collective response from other groups. The fact that 14% of Black People feel like the country has “been about right” in their treatment of Black People having equal rights vs. everyone else averaging around 40% is telling.
It illustrates that when someone who is Black is open about their sense of racial disparity (a key element of the Black Experience in America) – it will be met with an inequivalent level of sensitivity across the board (especially from White Americans. This in turn will lead to an emerging sense of not belonging due to the lack of support being shown to the openness offered.
And if the argument is, “Just because Black People say it’s true, doesn’t mean it’s true,” I will respond to that with a defense mechanism that I’ve learned over the years: “Ok.”
This chart points out two things:
A lot of people feel like race relations are bad in America.
Black People over-index, compared to other groups, in those negative feelings.
This likely has something to do with the fact that Black People don’t feel listened to as implied by the findings in the first chart.
This chart is hilarious to me because it shows people openly admitting (all races combined) that it sucks to be Hispanic/Black in America, and it’s helpful to be White. I would’ve loved to see this divide in opinion by race like the other questions, but this is what I’ve got.
This really makes me question, “If America has in fact “been about right” in their treatment of equal rights for Black People in this country, how the hell do you explain this chart?” I mean – I don’t think Black People in this study could skew these results THIS much on their own. Other racial groups would have had to agree.
I’ll end with this one…
This chart amazes me because it’s an interesting case of disregarding the witness.
On one side, you have Black People saying that they think they are treated less fairly in different situations. On the other end, you have White People on the opposite side of the spectrum. When Black People are open about their experiences, White People (anecdotally) haven’t been sensitive to them (based on this chart). If they were, I think there would be more alignment on the results of this particular question.
And it still doesn’t make sense because the majority of people think being Black puts you at a disadvantage in America (according to the chart before this one). How do those contradictions add up?
I think it’s a matter of “seeing what you want to see” in your daily life. Yes, the argument could be made that Black People are experiencing a fictitious victim narrative that they want others to believe they experience — sure — but that doesn’t remove the damning proof of the chart before this one where everyone admits that being Black in America puts you at a disadvantage. Also, we (Black People) never had a meeting and said that we should all keep this grand lie alive in the social consciousness.
This was back in 2019.
After years of feeling marginalized in America, Black People are finally getting empathy/sensitivity from the rest of society (in part, sadly – because of the Summer of 2020). Suddenly employers want to listen & White America is more open to hearing us out. I am here for it, and it’s part of that sense of good faith that motivated me to write this series in the first place.
Professionalism & Black Women TV Reporters
Circling back to my earlier comments about being Black in the workplace – let’s take a look at Black women who report the news on TV and the open struggles they’ve faced just trying to wear their natural hair on the air.
Brittany Noble, an award-winning journalist, claims that she was fired from her job at a local tv station in Jackson, Mississippi because of a choice she made to wear her natural hair. She is quoted in an Ebony article saying…
The rest of the article reads a little foul and may make some people’s blood boil, and the company has fired back claiming she was fired for absenteeism, not for the curiously close timing of her decision to change her hairstyle while she was on the air.
Sadly, she’s not alone.
Many Black People, women in particular have had to deal with this issue in that particular industry. To openly wear your hair in its natural Black state isn’t taken so lightly, and can be met with a now unsurprising level of insensitivity. People have horror stories about this, and I know it’s not made up because I’ve experienced it. I’ve been told in elevators at places that I’ve worked at in the past that I should cut my hair for the sake of my career. I have been told the natural way in which I choose to wear my hair (it’s an afro) is unprofessional. And I’m a man. I feel like if this has happened to me, it DEFINITELY happens to women more frequently.
Another news reporter in Texas, Tashara Parker, had a natural hair moment 2 years after the earlier mentioned Ms. Noble – and her look was met with both praise and critique. I would rather have her give the last word on this particular issue herself, as I think she brings up some valid points.
Being Open in a Non-Sensitive World
The last thing I want to say is that these recent years have changed things regarding Black Openness and the rest of the world’s willingness to respond to it positively. As I said in the first post in this series – I’m thankful for hashtag culture, because I think it’s allowed people to consume more than they care to about the Black Experience in small bites. They’ve “seen things” now that grow more and more indefensible as time goes on, and they’re more and more willing to meet at the table.
Pre-2020, Black People were tired of having to justify their existence. They were tired of being met time and time again with insensitivity to them openly living their lives. Once the Summer of 2020 came about, more non-Black People understood the frustration and overall fatigue Black People felt. Multitudes of people could now see why Black People never felt 100% free to live unbothered in America because news everywhere was bombarded with week after inescapable week of social injustice until it brought about an uproar.
I mean, a guy was choked out in the streets by a cop on live camera — and everyone gets it now?
I think it’s sad that that’s what it took to get to a certain level of empathy, but fine – I’ll take it. We were openly pissed about it – and not just Black People, but almost any person with some ounce of human decency. And you know what? It seems like the rest of the world may finally be ready to sensitively respond to our venting (because that was never the case before).
I just hope Black People aren’t too jaded now and pass on this moment of others openly listening. I hope that others don’t feel too stuck in the roadblocks of the past and the shortcomings of our legislative processes. I hope there is still ENOUGH of some level of openness left in the hearts of my community to build bridges to better futures for everyone.
I don’t quote him to say that I agree with him. I show that because A LOT of Black People I know feel that way because of how their efforts at openness have been met with responses lacking sensitivity. How can anyone feel like they belong in a country that they have that kind of relationship with? I hope it’s not too late to fix things.